Revisiting nostalgic favorites: a pleasant return to comforting, cherished memories, or a one-way ticket to disillusionment.
The Chronicles of Narnia may be the literature that most informed my early years. Like many a child, I dreamed of stumbling upon a portal that would lead to thrilling, magical adventures with Aslan, the Pevensie children, and the daring, diminutive Reepicheep. I habitually checked the backs of closets, knowing that my hands would meet the resistance of a wall, but still disappointed when my fingers didn’t brush against snow-covered pine needles. Walking through woods, or slipping through the gap in a hedge, I always imagined that, upon passing through to the other side, I would find myself in a different world.
Narnia was my first exposure to many fantasy tropes that continued to fascinate me for many, many years. I’m still a sucker for stories about alternate worlds and dimensions: Piers Anthony’s Apprentice Adept, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, Joel Rosenberg’s Guardians of the Flame, Matthew Stover’s The Acts of Caine… Just about any half-decent story of dimension-hopping has been able to grab and hold my attention.
I’m even tempted to blame my fondness for Doctor Who and British sitcoms on Narnia’s innate and obvious British-ness, but that might be stretching it a bit. The culprit could as easily be the adolescent fascination I had with the adorable Elizabeth Sladen and Felicity Kendal.
Point being, I had placed Narnia on a pedestal stacked so impossibly high with childhood wonder and personally mythic importance, that I wasn’t at all surprised when revisiting the books as an adult resulted in disappointment. I was, however, surprised at the source of my disappointment, which was my discovery that the books were so blatantly, heavily, and simplistically allegorical.
I don’t have a kneejerk, negative reaction to literature that’s influenced and inspired by religion, or even literature that celebrates religion and faith (Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is unapologetically a Catholic text, and it’s one of the seminal pieces of fantasy fiction for damned good reasons), but there’s a thin line between stories with religious elements and stories that proselytize, and when a story is as transparent a religious allegory as Narnia, it’s slipping into preachy territory.
I still have a fondness for Narnia, to the point where I’ll still geek out and rant over things like the newer printings of the books being reordered chronologically (they’re not meant to be read in chronological order, damn it!) Still, I can’t help but be saddened when I think of C.S. Lewis dedicating The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to his goddaughter.
“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.”
Either Narnia is not a very good fairy tale, or I have outgrown fairy tales.
Either option is sad, though I feel fairly confident that I have not outgrown fairy tales.